Barbara Fletcher sits in her hospital room chair with blood flowing into her body through a tube. “My kangaroo juice,” she calls it, because whenever she receives new blood she feels new energy. A short concert has just concluded outside her room, performed by Symphony violinist Silvian Iticovici and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly. Fletcher describes the images that passed through her mind as Iticovici and Lilly played works by Satie and others. Fletcher tells me about warm breezes, trees, a refreshing pond with fish rising briefly to the surface. The music took her far outside the hospital room, far from the tubes and monitors.
Fletcher visits the Blood & Marrow Outpatient Transplant services at Saint Louis University Cancer Center regularly with her husband and daughter. Her daughter was her marrow donor. Nobody likes to come for cancer treatment, but when Symphony musicians are scheduled to perform it becomes a day to look forward to. SymphonyCares and the SLU Cancer Center have been partnering since 2011. Maureen Byrne, Symphony Director of Community Programs, never has a hard time finding musicians to participate.
On a drizzly Monday morning, Lilly and Iticovici set up in front of a nurses’ station. The doors to the patients’ rooms up and down the corridor are open. Without introduction, the music begins.
Music therapists Crystal Weaver and Andrew Dwiggins are on hand for whatever may be needed. Weaver tells me that it’s not expected for the Symphony musicians to be therapists, but she and Dwiggins have the training to come to a patient’s or a family member’s aid when the music pulls the emotions intensely. Dwiggins says it’s never a matter of being alarmed that someone may cry, but to make sure that the patient or loved one feels safe to cry, to acknowledge what the music has released.
After the concert Lilly and Iticovici meet with Barbara, her husband and daughter, wearing protective gowns, gloves and masks. Lilly tells me afterward that the SLU Cancer Center concerts remind her of why she makes music. Iticovici agrees, “It’s about being able to touch someone.”